Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Here's What Counts, When It Comes to Birds

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Here's What Counts, When It Comes to Birds

Article excerpt

The latest issue of Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds magazine carries an ad suggesting that we ordinary folks might like to take part in a survey. The idea is to count the birds in our garden, as we call it in the UK. ("Garden," to us, does not mean a patch of vegetables or flowers. It means everything that surrounds one's house within one's boundaries.)

It is the "boundaries" that puzzle me when it comes to the thought of accurately assessing the bird numbers "in" our garden. I can't imagine how it can be done - apart from the improbable notion of banding every pigeon, blackbird, flycatcher, or stonechat.

Our modest garden is joined by walls and hedges to five neighboring gardens, not to mention the narrow road that nominally separates it from two more. Seven, then. It's easier to count gardens than birds. How can we tell which birds make use of all the gardens or confine themselves to one?

I am aware, of course, that we have, in varying numbers, common species that regularly visit us. I think they come just to challenge the monopolistic tendencies of the gray squirrels that probably account for most of the "bird" food we generously offer.

The food is suspended from branches in special containers. The feeder nearest to a window is by the kitchen, and this peanut dispenser is frequented mainly by sparrows, blue-tits, cole-tits, and mice. Our mice are agile tree-climbers, and it is not unusual to see a sparrow, a tit, and a mouse breakfasting together amicably.

We have a bird table, a small platform with food on it. There is a bird bath in the front garden and another in the back. We do well by our birds, all told.

But are they "our" birds?

I have recently spent much time working in our glass-enclosed room at the back of the house. It is impossible in daylight hours to look up from a book and not see birds. We have collared doves, magpies, blackbirds, blue-tits, and, now and then, finches. And robins. Robins, UK style, are not at all like American robins, but sparrow-size, with brown backs and wings and orangy-red breasts. They are reputedly territorial. I have seen two at a time, I more often only see one. Only once have I seen three. Does this mean we have one resident with occasional invaders?

In other years, I have seen what I think are siskinds. I haven't seen them lately. They may have been green finches; I'm not sure. Once I saw a wagtail, near the pond. And we had a sparrow hawk for a short while that carried away some of our mice. On one grand occasion, a heron, like some prehistoric flying creature, stood commandingly on the apex of the greenhouse. And one night an owl alighted on the bird table. Maybe we have thrushes, but I am never certain if female blackbirds don't pretend to be them.

As for sparrows, they are two a penny. …

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